Phospholipids in Human Milk and Infant Formulas: Benefits and Needs for Correct Infant Nutrition

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Aug 17;56(11):1880-92. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2013.803951.


The composition of human milk has served as a basis for the development of infant formulas, which are used when breastfeeding is not possible. Among the human milk nutrients, 50% of the total energetic value corresponds to fat, with a high level of fatty acids and 0.2-2.0% present in the form of phospholipids (PLs). The PL contents and fatty acid distribution in PL species have been investigated as bioactive elements for the production of infant formulas, since they offer potential benefits for the optimum growth and health of the newborn infant. The differences in the amount of PLs and in fatty acid distribution in PL species between human milk and infant formulas can imply biologically significant differences for newborn infants fed with infant formulas versus human milk-mainly due to the greater proportion of sphingomyelin with respect to phosphatidylcholine in infant formulas. The limited information referred to the characterization of fatty acid distribution in PL species in infant formulas or in ingredients used to enrich them merits further research in order to obtain products with benefits similar to those of human milk in terms of infant growth, visual acuity, and neurological development. The present review establishes the scientific basis for helping to adjust formulations to the requirements of infant nutrition.

Keywords: Breastfeeding; choline; functional bioactive ingredients; milk composition; neurological development; phospholipids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula / chemistry*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Models, Animal
  • Phospholipids / analysis
  • Phospholipids / pharmacology*


  • Fatty Acids
  • Phospholipids